Temperance and Trade


Now on Exhibit

Open April 1–December 31

Burrows House in the Seaport Village

In 1851, seven decades before national Prohibition, Maine passed a law forbidding the sale of strong drink. Maine Laws, as they became known, were soon adopted throughout New England, though they were met with little enthusiasm by many citizens and there was often less appetite for enforcing them. To meet the letter of the law, if not its spirit, Connecticut added a provision to its 1854 Maine Law that allowed any three citizens to initiate a complaint against purported sellers of alcohol, freeing limited police resources to deal with crimes that were seen as more urgent. Enforcement of the law was therefore spotty, ebbing and flowing with public interest and will.

In 1869, there were no less than 16 merchants selling alcohol along Water Street in Mystic on the Groton side of the river, all in violation of the Connecticut Maine Law. Indignation grew among Mystic Temperance leaders, a powerful group of community residents that included Thomas Greenman of the Greenman Bros. Shipyard who was also a Stonington justice of the peace. In February of 1870, the Mystic Temperance Association called on the local sheriff to enforce the law and bring town merchants into compliance.

Among the four stores Sheriff Brown entered was Seth Winthrop “Winty” Burrows’ mercantile, then located on the current site of the Chelsea Groton Bank parking lot and now part of the Museum’s Seaport Village. The sheriff seized eight packages of spirits and arrested the merchant himself, Winty’s second of what would ultimately be three arrests for selling alcohol. A nine-month court battle followed, documented in contemporary newspapers as well as court records, that serves as a microcosmic example of the struggle between the moral ideals championed by Temperance activists and the financial realities of life in a working-class New England town.

In this exhibit, guests are invited into the Burrows House parlor to attend a Union Temperance meeting on July 10, 1872, based on an actual meeting that occurred on that date just a short distance away in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. They will hear a re-enactment of a speech given by Temperance activist Amelia Jenks Bloomer at an Iowa Union Temperance meeting in 1870. While reflecting on the speech, guests will learn the history of the Temperance movement from its earliest days in the New England colonies through the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Across the hall from the meeting, guests can explore “Winty” Burrows’ office to learn about his mercantile business and discover the circumstances surrounding his arrest and subsequent trial for the sale of alcohol. Period artifacts illustrate the formative role that maritime trade played in America’s tumultuous relationship with strong drink, complicating and often conflicting with the effort to prohibit its manufacture and sale.

Finally, in the Burrows House kitchen guests will learn about the science and history of alcoholic beverages, beginning with the discovery of fermentation through the invention of distillation that ultimately led us to—and beyond—the Temperance movement. Examples of alcohol’s many uses and important benefits provide a nuanced counterpoint to the dangers of alcohol abuse chronicled in the Parlor. 

Exhibit curator Anthony Caporale is an internationally-renowned mixology author, educator, and consultant specializing in the history and science of alcoholic beverages. He is the playwright and star of The Imbible series of New York City-based musical comedies about the history of cocktails and spirits, which have become some of the longest-running off-Broadway shows of all time. Anthony is also the Director of Spirits Education and Research at New York’s top-ranked Institute of Culinary Education, and he authored the cocktail chapter of the groundbreaking cookbook, Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation.  In addition, he served as the Managing Editor for Chilled Magazine, the National Brand Ambassador for Drambuie Scotch Liqueur, and the US Cocktail Ambassador for Truvia Natural Sweetener. Most recently, Anthony was the featured Cocktail Historian on The Smithsonian Channel‘s Searching For Secrets: New York episode.

Anthony was inspired to curate this exhibit by the unique role the Burrows House played during the Temperance Period in Mystic. There are few remaining examples of such a well-documented history that illuminates both sides of this divisive and complicated social issue. History in general, and the Temperance movement in particular, has taught us that there are rarely simple answers to complex questions.